You know you have lived in London waaay too long when a 10ft by 12ft area of concrete becomes your most prized and treasured possession.
I grew up in a house with a garden. In fact there was a garden at the front of the house and another one at the back and they were connected by a third little garden that my Dad used as a vegetable patch. Adults used to visit and say to me, ‘My my! aren’t you lucky having such a lovely garden to play in?’ and I would nod politely but think to myself: ‘what are you on about? It’s just a bit of grass.’
Just a bit of grass! If I had known my childhood home would be the only place I would ever live in – and I have lived in a lot of places – with a sunny patch of grass next to it then I would have appreciated it so much more. I wouldn’t have moaned about wasps or about being cold when we ate our tea outside. I would have eaten outside every day! Even my Christmas dinner.
Outside space in London is about as hard to come by as a seat in a bar on a Friday night or a restaurant table without a reservation. It’s only when the option isn’t there you realise how much you would like to have an outdoor barbecue, or to dry your clothes in the fresh air or just to sit outside and read a book.
You can therefore imagine how excited I was when we moved into our flat with a 10ft by 12ft sunny roof terrace. In the summer my wife grows lovely flowers out there and I have my own mini herb garden in the form of hanging baskets. It is amazing how much joy these simple pleasures bring to our lives. I am definitely getting old.
The fact our terrace is private makes it really special, and it is great sitting out there with friends on a warm weekend having a natter and a sunbathe with a few ice-cold Coronas. We live next door to an art gallery and our terrace sits just next to the gallery’s flat roof. Every summer evening we eat dinner outdoors, looking over the rooftops of London and breathing in the freshly polluted air. When it’s really hot we can sleep with the patio doors open as none of our neighbours are close enough to see into our window or climb up to our terrace. It is wonderful… or rather it was wonderful.
The women who owns the art gallery next door AKA our absolute worst enemy has decided we are undeserving of our lovely, little roof terrace and has put in no less than FOUR planning applications to build a new storey on top of her gallery. If she gets her way it means our bright, sunny bedroom and terrace will become permanently dark. Whereas now we can look out our bedroom and see the sky, she is proposing our view should be a brick wall close enough to touch. Our plants will no longer get sunshine and we will no longer have access to any warmth and light. Even more irritating, her proposed extension includes a big terrace which she plans to hire out as a party venue. This means even if we do decide to sit outside on our dark, boxed-in terrace, there will be large groups of people above us enjoying the sunshine and flicking their fag ash on our heads.
‘Surely she can’t do this!’ I hear you cry, and fortunately the Planning Department at Camden agreed as her first proposal was withdrawn and her second one rejected. However she is a persistent bugger who just won’t give up, first appealing their decisions and then putting in more fresh applications. My Mum has been helping us write our objections and refers to our neighbour as ‘The wretched woman’ which really suits her. The name has stuck.
The other weekend I had a hangover and I was trying to chill out in my bedroom and get a bit of peace when I saw the wretched woman parading about on her roof with a bunch of architects. They were writing and measuring and doing all sorts of wretched things.
I motioned for them to clear off as they were only a metre or so from my bedroom window but they ignored me. After a while I went out there and asked her to please be reasonable and at least speak to us to try and arrange a compromise.
She got very worked up jumped up and down and stamped her feet like a 6ft toddler. If I hadn’t been angry myself it would have been quite funny. She told me we were ‘taking more than our fair share of light’ – and we were ‘bad neighbours’ for wanting to enjoy the sunshine.
She then pulled her trump card. She is rich and we are not and she has employed ‘the very best professionals’ to make sure she can legally steal all our sunshine ‘just because I can and there is nothing you can do about it so there.’
Only in London would there be such a battle over a small patch of sunshine.
I told the Wife what happened and we got a bit downhearted. The wretched woman is wearing us down and we cannot afford to keep on battling with her. ‘Shall we move?’ we asked each other, ‘Shall we try and sell up and move to Brighton where there is plenty of free sunshine to go around? Is London really still for us?’
Sad as it is, maybe it is time for us to leave town.
We decided to go on a date night on Friday and discuss our options and headed into Soho. All the bars were rammed, as we had expected, but our friends had introduced us to a new women’s bar called Labels where we were greeted like old friends, led down to a cosy, candlelit table and offered champagne cocktails for a fiver each.
It had funky music playing and lots of women chatting and snogging each other. It’s how I always hope the Candy Bar will be.
The manager of our favourite Spanish restaurant knew to seat us by the window so we could enjoy our paella looking out over old Compton Street and we had time to stop off for a final cocktail in the Sanderson for a little bit of glamour before heading home.
It was a perfect evening and we could never have had it outside of London. Despite our wretched sun-stealing neighbour, there is no place like home. We will probably stay.
We are still waiting to hear whether we can keep our sunshine, but in the mean time I am secretly teaching my cat how to use the wretched woman’s plants as a litter tray. She is getting pretty good at it.